When I lived in Kansas I sometimes visited a monastery nestled deep in the Chama River Canyon Wilderness in northern New Mexico: the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. It is the home of Benedictine monks and brothers who live a simple, austere life with few amenities. There they work, worship, pray, and welcome visitors on day visits or self-directed retreats. The monastery lingers in my memory as a place of serene, stunning beauty, rich in the presence of God. It’s well worth spending time there.
But like many such places, it isn’t easy to get to. Traveling north from Santa Fe on U.S. Highway 84 you turn eventually onto a 13-mile dirt road that stretches upward to skirt the edge of the Chama River. As you drive this road, to one side of the car is a sheer rock wall, on the other a steep drop toward the river. There is no shoulder to the road, no turn-around, and no room for error. It’s carved out of rock and earth and is only really safe when the weather is dry. In rain it turns to deep, slippery mud, and in winter it’s covered in ice and snow. It’s slow going, difficult, and beautiful.
When I visited, you were on your own getting up to the monastery. But if you were leaving the monastery when the road was muddy or icy, the brothers would “sandwich” you down – one sturdy, solid 4-wheel drive car or small truck going ahead to lead you on the road and another following after. On one of my visits it had snowed heavily the night before I was to leave, so I was sandwiched down to the highway, feeling a small tremor of nervousness but also somehow calmed by the sheltering presence of those brothers in their sturdy vehicles.
It’s comforting to have an experienced, sure-footed companion-traveler ahead of you and another steady and strong behind, to come to your rescue if you slip and fall. May you always have that blessing.
To see more of the monastery and/or to support its ministry, visit the website at christdesert.org